The Volksmarch

One of the exciting events in my PHV days was going on a Volksmarch (people’s walk).  Since I was probably in 1st and 2nd grade during most of my Volksmarches, the details below may be sketchy.  But that’s a disclaimer that can be applied to this entire blog, so let’s jump into my recollection of these events.

A Volksmarch is essentially a non-competitive hike through scenic terrain.  A route would be set up in advance, and participants would just walk the route at their own pace.  I can remember marches through deep forested areas, cutting across farmers’ fields, skirting small villages, and sometimes following roads for a stretch.  It seems there must have been tremendous cooperation with the local community to set these routes up.

The standard distance of a Volksmarch was 10 kilometers (a little over 6 miles), but many of them offered longer routes which I think might’ve gone as high as 25km.  Sometimes the routes would share the same space for a while but then diverge, and it was always great fun for us kids to find the route markers and then inform our parents about which way we needed to go next.  I don’t recall ever seeing many people doing the longer routes, except for the occasional serious runner.  Maybe these longer routes were open to cyclists as well?

You had to register at the start of the route.  I don’t know if there was an entry fee or not, since that was something for the grown-ups to handle, but I remember that each march had some unique rewards such as pins for your Volksmarching hat or medals to display in your home — I assume these came at a price, if they weren’t included in an entry fee.  Oh yes, we had Volksmarching hats and walking sticks as well.  All we were missing were the lederhosen.


When you registered, you would get a card or booklet which needed to be stamped at various checkpoints along the route.  It was always exciting to round a corner and see the next checkpoint ahead, especially if they were serving food so you could grab a wurst with mustard!

One thing I recall about Germany was that they had a lot of playgrounds, sometimes built of high-quality wood, and sometimes in the most unlikely of places.  I know at least once we were marching through a forest and came across a large wooden play area, and of course we insisted on taking a break to run around in it for a while.  Although I don’t think this was part of a Volksmarch, I remember another wooden play area shaped like a American wild west fort complete with a set of Indian teepees nearby…and I remember this just being alongside a road not near anything.

As fun as these Volksmarches were, I do recall that 10km could get a bit taxing on the feet and maybe the last kilometer or so might involve a little whining that was absent earlier in the walk.  But knowing that a neat new pin or medal waited at the finish line was enough to carry us through.  For a time we had a cloth panel hanging on the wall with various Volksmarching medals pinned to it.  I also remember that we used to buy some sort of mint candy at the start of the walk, something very similar to Mentos if not exactly that, and we considered them “energy pills” which would help us get through all 10 kilometers.

A little while after leaving Germany, I remember doing a Volksmarch in or around Fort Polk, Leesville, Louisiana.  It was great to see the concept brought to the States, presumably by others who had served overseas, but walking through hot, humid Louisiana didn’t have quite the same charm as doing it in the German countryside.

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8 thoughts on “The Volksmarch

  1. Scott Miles

    Not sure how I stumbled onto your site, but I have enjoyed browsing it. I lived at 19D Alamo circle in PHV from 1976 to 1980. We previously lived at PHV from my birth in 1967 until about 1971 at another address as well.

    Some things I haven’t seen yet that I remember fondly include:

    – Playing “curb ball”
    – Playing Atari Pong at the bowling alley and going to the 1 screen movie theater
    – The big festival in the summer
    – Fourth of July fireworks with the cannons
    – Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts
    – Autobahn Annie parked outside the Middle School!
    – DYA/AYA Sports
    – Selling the Army Times door to door for prizes
    – “Dirt clod” fights at “Rabbit Hill”

    Such good times!

    • It sounds like we were in PHV at the same time, but I was born in December 1972 so you would have been several grades above me.

      I did talk about the movie theater a little in the Shopping post, take a look there if you haven’t already. I don’t recall most of the other things you mentioned, but that may have been because I was fairly young at the time.

      Where was Rabbit Hill? I bet I know it, but not by that name.

      • Scott Miles

        Rabbit Hill was located in the southwest corner of PHV at the end of Alamo Circle. It was just this big (to my memory…) solid packed dirt hill. We would knock off bits of the dirt (called “clods”) and throw them at each other and play war.

        Looking at Google Maps now, I see that there is a bulding there. It’s a rectangle with a large courtyard planted with trees. When I was there, all that area was undeveloped over to the Middle School.

        Sorry for posting this in the Volksmarch section. I meant to put this in the main part but messed that up. I did enjoy many a volksmarch myself with the family.

      • I think what you’re referring to as Rabbit Hill is what I remember being a dirt BMX track. Maybe the bike track was just formed by kids riding around on top of the dirt for a while? But I recall hills and valleys that were probably made with a shovel or something.

      • Betsy

        Wow, who ARE you? 🙂 If you were born in Dec 72, you prob were in the same grade I was–born in May 73. Wonder if we knew each other then– Thanks for all the memories! You brought up the Brotchen Lady, but do you remember the fruit guy? He would pull up in a big truck and sing out all the fruits he had–not quite as exciting for us kids, but my mom would go buy lots of fresh fruits from him.

      • Betsy, I’m guessing you were maybe 1 grade after me — I was always one of the youngest people in my class, so I think my classmates were mostly born in 72 and 71. I’d completely forgotten about the fruit guy until my mom mentioned it…now I have the vaguest recollection of hearing him sing out his inventory.

  2. joey

    curb ball!! now that brings back memories (along with all the marble posts)
    the firework shows-great fun time good ole American family village fun
    and who can forget tree climbing? I see by google earth-that my favorite trees are still standing all these years later..i can’t count the number of times I fell out of them (or playing paratrooper-jumped) surprised that I never broke anything playing silly stunts like that.

    do you still have your volksmarch medals/ribbons- I still have my collection- the best was a special bicentennial one- red/whi/blu ribbon w/pewter medal w/gold stars around the edges.
    another thing about volksmarches that I remember were the lil sucrose tablets that you would get to give you enough energy to complete those grueling forced marches… and that solid dark grey hat on the bottom of your picture- I had one that looked exactly like that. I wonder what happened to it after all these years. (and I regret- I never got my wish to get a pair of real lederhosen fulfilled…. )

  3. joey

    (ah- I see you did mention the energy pill/sucrose tablets) sometimes I read faster than my brain can .

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